Technically called additive manufacturing (AM), the process is emerging across a number of industries as diverse as health care, fashion, and defense. Doctors can better prepare for face transplant surgeries by printing 3D models, designers are experimenting by printing dresses, and the US Navy has begun custom-printing drones for specialized missions. With such broad market exposure, its potential as valuable technology in business marketing is no exception.
AM brings to life physical, three-dimensional objects based on a digital model, all by laying down successive layers of a material—plastic, metal, ceramics and other materials.
A wide array of sources collectively forecast impressive growth in the 3D printing market. According to the Wohlers Associates’ 2015 industry report, the compound annual growth rate of the AM industry is up 33.8 percent over the last three years.
The main uses of AM revealed by The Gartner Survey include prototyping, product development, and creating new items.
With high growth and seemingly unlimited application, there are many possibilities of how this new technology can help business development as well as brand marketing evolve.
How can brand marketers use 3D printing?
Brand storytelling at its best engages with consumers, and this is exactly where AM can shine as innovative content technology. One of the greatest advantages of using AM in brand marketing is the ability to materialize creative thought. Innovative ideas from both the consumer and the brand have the possibility of becoming a physical reality. Brand marketers who have the resources to include AM in their strategies have already begun to engage their audiences.
Esteemed German car company Volkswagen is a prominent case study of a brand creatively channeling this technology.
Volkswagen helped empower consumers to take on the role of car designer in the company’s “The Polo Principle” campaign. It invited people to control a 3D printer via the Volkswagen website. Among the submissions, 40 of the top designs were 3D printed using plaster-based powders and put on exhibit in Copenhagen, Denmark. The best design was even created into a real-life VW Polo car.
By inviting consumers to design their own real-life, three-dimensional prototypes, Volkswagen was able to collect fresh product development ideas, but perhaps more importantly, it empowered consumers to engage with the brand. The inherent nature of the campaign encouraged friendly competition and drove innovation to create the best design, recognized with public display and selection by the company as one of the car model’s designs.
Not far in the future many more brands will follow VW’s example. For brand marketers and expert storytellers who understand that communication is a two-way street, 3D printing technology has begun to enable collaboration and foster conversation around a brand.
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